CAN THE WAY you chew a raisin affect the way you experience pain? Trials at St James's and AMNCH (Tallaght) Hospitals in Dublin are beginning to look at how "mindfulness meditation" can be used to help people cope with a diverse range of problems including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, cardiac difficulties and even psoriasis.
"Mindfulness is a secular form of meditation . . . [and] . . . is useful for anyone going through stress and strain in life, which is probably everybody," explains Dr Noirin Sheahan, who has been practising mindfulness meditation for 20 years.
"In 2004, I realised that it was being used clinically . . . [and] . . . about a year ago, a consultant in pain medicine, Dr Connail McCrorey, asked me to teach his patients with chronic pain mindfulness," says Sheahan.
So what is mindfulness meditation? To most, these words conjure up images of Eastern spirituality, incense sticks and chanting. However, while the roots of it are indeed in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, it's use in its present form started with the work of a US molecular biologist.
Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher who specialised in the mind-body interaction, had been practising Zen Buddhism for many years. He realised that "what he had learned in terms of coping with the difficulties in life . . . could be applied in society as a whole outside of Buddhism", according to Sheahan.
"He felt that the place where the difficulty of life is most manifest is in hospitals where people are trying to cope with disease, chronic illness, maybe even terminal illness." As a result, "he developed an eight-weeks course . . . [in which] there is no chanting, no candles, incense, etc."